Massive day of shopping for puppy stuff and starting on puppy proofing the house, plus a house guest. So reviews got kicked back a day. More of both today, but I have a few minutes for reviews …
DOKTOR GLASS by Thomas Brennan is a steampunk novel (rights to cover with current holder) set in 1899 Liverpool as a detective mourning his recently deceased wife discovers a possible plot by Boer terrorists (the South African conflict has lasted twenty years and created something of a mini-Cold War) timed to coincide with the opening of “the Span,” England’s magnificent transatlantic bridge. But what’s the plot? And how does the eponymous head of a gang of soul-stealers fit into it? I liked this one a lot, and I really enjoy how Brennan describes his settings concisely but vividly, with the right amount of detail. The divergent history makes me curious though: while I don’t think a Boer War starting earlier is implausible, it appears like it overlaps the Zulu wars of the 1800s (the battle of Roark’s Drift sounds like it was a Boer/British thing rather than a Zulu attack), which makes me want more detail (I wonder if it’s to avoid the complications of British African colonialism?).
THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS by Andrew Sean Greer opens in 1985 as Greta finds her emotions spiraling out of control in the wake of her twin brother’s death from AIDS. When she goes in for electroshock therapy, she starts timeline jumping and finding herself alternately in the lives of a Greta in 1918 and one in 1941 (both of whom are going through similar therapy for their own issues). This fell completely flat for me—Greer does nothing new with the premise (I’ve seen a couple of TV movies which handle a similar concept at least as well) and his prose style doesn’t work for me. I did like that Greta’s counterpart’s disrupt her life much as she disrupts theirs (in contrast to Quest for Love which ducks that angle), but her ending assurances that when they all end up in each others’ lives permanently her counterparts are as happy as she is feels like a fudge (she just Knows it’s true).
HELLBLAZER: Reasons to be Cheerful, by Mike Carey, Leonardo Manco and Giuseppe Camuncoli confirms the feeling I had with Staring at the Wall, that John Constantine works best for me when he’s off-balance. In this case, his three half-demon kids are engaged in a concerted campaign to wipe out everyone he ever loved and reduce his life to a living hell; not brilliant (and only the opening of a much longer arc) but good.
As there haven’t been any new Batman Chronicles in a while, I dug out my old hardback, BATMAN: From the Thirties to the Seventies (cover by Carmine Infantino, not sure of the inker, all rights with current holder). As the name suggests, this runs from Batman’s debut in “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” through the then-radical changes at the end of the 1960s (Dick goes off to college, Bruce and Alfred move into the heart of Gotham). A surprising amount is devoted to 1950s stories, surprising because that’s an era generally dumped on for creating the “Batman family” (the original Batwoman and Batgirl, plus Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite) and oddball SF adventures (I’m personally kind of fond of it). By contrast, there’s only one story from the 1960s “New Look” period which got rid of most of that (it’s Babs Gordon’s debut as Batgirl). I enjoyed this thoroughly.